The big science lie


The relationship between science and religion is one of the biggest issues Peter Mullen seeks to correct some of the widespread misconceptions

The relationship between science and religion is a subject made treacherous by opponents of the Christian faith, who spread lies about both Christianity and science, with the deliberate aim of destroying our faith.

The first big lie is that the scientific revolution of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment banished the gloom and superstition of the Dark Ages. In fact, the so-called Dark Ages were not dark at all: they were a period of astonishing technological progress. For example, the Battle of Tours in ad 732 was the first occasion when knights fought in full armour. They could do so because of the invention of stirrups and the Norman saddle: the ancient Romans had neither stirrups nor an effective saddle, so a knight trying to wield his lance would only fall off.

Developments on the battlefield showed European farming technologists how to invent the horse collar. So farmers were able to switch from using oxen to horses for ploughing, thus immensely increasing food production. The Dark Ages also saw the invention of iron horseshoes, allowing horses to travel over hard ground and cover more territory.

Other inventions which preceded the Renaissance by centuries were waterwheels, mills, camshafts, mechanical clocks and the compass.

Medieval learning

The next big lie is that it was not until the voyages of Columbus and Magellan that we learnt the world is round. This is nonsense. Among the scholars of the Dark Ages who taught that the world is round are the Venerable Bede, Bishop Virgilus of Salzburg, Hildegard of Bingen and St Thomas Aquinas.

Copernicus is usually credited with overturning the silly flat earth view of the superstitious medieval Church. Actually, Copernicus was taught the heliocentric theory by such as Nicole d'Oresme (1325-82), who wrote, 'The earth turns, rather than the heavens.' Oresme was the most outstanding of all the medieval scientists, and he saw no conflict between science and religion. After teaching science at the University of Paris, he became Bishop of Lisieux. The universities themselves were not the product of the Renaissance: they were invented by the medieval Church.

Another big lie is that medical science was held back because the Church would not allow the dissection of corpses. But it was medieval churchmen who permitted dissection and improved their knowledge of anatomy as a direct result. The Greeks, Romans and Muslims all forbade dissection because the dignity of the human body would not permit it. The Church was not so hindered, because of course the Church possessed the liberating doctrine of the immortal soul, the spiritual body. And it was the Christian scholar Mondino de'Luzzi (1270-1326) who wrote a textbook on the dissection of corpses.

The real conflict

There is no conflict between science and Christianity. The conflict is between Christianity and ideological atheists such as Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot and Huxley, right down to that prince bigot of our own time, Richard Dawkins. These people lie about the history of science as a way of attacking the faith.

It is not only that there is no conflict between Christianity and science: without Christianity, there would be no science. No other civilization, ancient or modern, has invented science -only the Christianity of the Dark Ages and the medieval period. This is because Christianity has declared, since the opening verse of St John's Gospel, that God is reasonable. This reasonable God made the world in his own reasonable image, to be discovered and understood by the rationality he has implanted in us by his Spirit. To quote the outstanding scientist, A.N. Whitehead, 'There is but one source for science: it must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God.'